As Jane Austen fans, we all know that Pride and Prejudice’s original title was First Impressions. I often think about Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth’s first meeting and how central their first impression of each other is to the entire story. I think their first meeting is significant for two reasons. Firstly, it is not only Elizabeth’s first impression of Mr. Darcy; it is ours as well. We do not get to meet the gentleman before that evening and know very little about him until that point. As readers, we get to experience the same feelings of shock, disappointment and even anger when we see his behaviour and hear his words at the party. And yet, despite his rudeness and his arrogance, we keep hoping that he will improve on further acquaintance. The second reason why their first meeting is so crucial is that it energizes Darcy’s and Lizzy’s interactions for the first half of the novel, and culminates in that disastrous first proposal. I mean, if Lizzy had not heard Darcy’s words about herself, she would not have been so quick to dislike him and to believe Wickham’s lies about him. I think Austen has done a fantastic job with that first meeting. Any other way, and Darcy and Lizzy would not have had the same growth in understanding of each other and of themselves throughout the novel.
I am currently rewriting my third novel, To Desire and Deserve, and I think I have rewritten the scene where my protagonists meet for the first time at least three times and I am still not quite satisfied with it. But I have decided to share a small excerpt of that scene in hopes of some feedback. What is significant about this “first meeting” is that neither the male protagonist nor the readers get to know the identity of the female protagonist. Her character is revealed in the following chapter when they meet again. The reason for keeping her identity hidden from the readers is that I want the readers to see what the male protagonist sees in her, or in other words, his first impression of her; her sense of humour, her joy and her energy and zest for life. This is not at all an unpleasant first impression. However, it is an unexpected meeting on so many levels, as he is by no means ready or willing to meet a new woman and she is very different from the women in his past. But perhaps that is why she is so right for him.
I hope you enjoy the excerpt and please give me feedback.
Lord Carlisle left his friend and walked in the direction of the stables where a horse was readied for him. He road away before the ladies exited the inn. He could not face her again. He needed to be alone. Even if it was only for a few hours. He rode for a while, enjoying the fresh air, the freedom and the solitude of riding alone. He reached Graden Hall in an hour, but he was not ready to present himself yet. He needed his solitude. He needed to breathe away from her and her unforgiving eyes. He led his horse off the lane and entered the woods. Finding a quiet glen among the trees, he secured his horse to a branch and decided to walk a little. He was too restless even for riding.
How had he managed to get himself in this mess? Why? Why had he done it? Curiosity? Insanity? Without a doubt this was madness! He had carefully avoided her company since his return to England. He had avoided balls and large gatherings for fear of seeing her, of having to speak to her. And just when he thought he had managed to escape the inevitable, he had gone and thrown himself in her immediate company by accepting an invitation to her brother’s estate.
To be fair, he did not know she was going to be at Wilborough Hall, home of his dear friend, Lord Somme. When Lord Somme had invited him, he had assured him that his sister and his mother were to be away from home, staying with relations in London. He had been foolish enough to accept the blasted invitation and had arrived at Wilborough Hall only to be received by Lady Somme and her daughter, Lady Emilia, who had changed their plans about travelling to London and had remained at home.
The passage of five years had not done anything to diminish Lady Emilia’s beauty. In fact, if possible, she had grown even more beautiful. She was tall and slender and her face was the epitome of classical beauty. She had curtseyed and smiled and had said all the right things, welcoming him to her brother’s home. She had talked of all the inconsequential things, always carrying the conversation with ease, as though there was never anything between them. As though they had not once been in love. As though they had not promised their hearts to one another. He was confused and frustrated in equal measure. He would have preferred it more if she had screamed at him, had slapped him hard across the face and had asked him to leave. But no! She had been polite! She had been … perfectly proper! It was only in unguarded moments, when he caught her staring at him, that he saw her true feelings in her unforgiving eyes.
And now, after a week of torment at her home, they were on the road, travelling to Graden Hall, to stay with Lord Somme’s fiancée and her family. When Lord Somme had first told him about travelling to Graden Hall, he had been reluctant. He did not know anyone there and he was not particularly in the mood for meeting new people. But after arriving at Wilborough Hall and seeing Lady Emilia there, he was almost looking forward to going to Graden Hall. He was looking forward to going anywhere, if it meant he could escape her tormenting company. Unfortunately, Lady Emilia and her mother had also decided to travel to Graden Hall in their company. He could not possibly cry off without offending his friend. He had no choice but to accept the situation and to count the days until the blasted visit at Graden Hall would come to an end.
He picked up a small dry branch from the ground, tossing it from one hand to the other. He breathed deeply, the memories coming back, tormenting and suffocating him. He remembered the last time he had seen her before he had left England.
“So you are truly leaving?” She had asked.
He had nodded gravely. “I have no choice.”
“And when will you return?”
“I do not know. Not for a long time. Maybe not ever. Unless… unless I know I have hope.”
She had remained quiet, not meeting his eyes.
“Emilia?” He had called her beloved name. “Please tell me that I have reason to hope.”
“There is no hope,” she had finally said, breaking his spirit. “You do not deserve it.”
“I am sorry,” he had said, the rigid line around his mouth indicative of his pain. “I wish you every happiness.”
And he had walked away, knowing that if he saw her eyes, her tears, he could never leave.
He wondered now if she had actually cried that day. He wondered if she had missed him at all, or had her hatred of him overtaken all her other feelings. She hated him now. That much he knew.
“Blast it,” he yelled in anger and threw the branch in the direction of the trees. “Blast it all.”
“Ah!” Came a soft cry from a short distance away from where he stood. He spun around to behold a young woman covering her face with her hands.
“Miss!” He ran toward her. “Are you alright?”
“What in the world?” She asked, her face still mostly covered by her hands.
“I am so very sorry,” he said, noticing the dry branch on the ground by her feet. “Please, allow me to have a look at your face.”
Slowly, she lowered her hands from her face. She was easily a foot shorter than him and he had to bend his head as he gently touched the wound on her forehead. She winced at his touch, which made his eyes leave her injured forehead and come to rest on her eyes. And he was unable to look away. He could not tell for certain what colour her eyes were. They were grey one moment and green the next, and if one looked carefully, one could see traces of honey in them. Her eyes were intelligent and self-assured. And there was more. Something infinitely more special. But he could not quite work it out.
“Will I survive the injury, do you think?” She asked and he could see her humour in her eyes.
“It is not bleeding,” he said, trying his best not to stare at her. “But I am afraid it has swollen a little, and it may be uncomfortable for a few days.”
Her response was a simple nod.
“Do you need to sit down?” He asked with concern. “Are you feeling faint?”
She laughed and he decided that hers was the most wonderful laugh he had ever heard.
“I am not fainthearted, sir.”
He could not help staring at her. She stepped away from him, putting a proper distance between them. He cleared his throat.
“Please accept my sincerest apologies for your injury, Miss.” He bowed. “Allow me to introduce myself. I am Lord Carlisle of Northhill Manor, Derbyshire.”
“Oh!” She said and surveyed His Lordship with no little amusement.
“So, you are Lord Carlisle. How very interesting!”
“Is my identity interesting?” he asked, raising an eyebrow. “You seem to have the advantage of me, Miss. Do you know who I am?”
“Indeed. Your name has been frequently mentioned at Graden Hall over the last few days. Everyone has been in great anticipation of your arrival. But what I find quite interesting is the fact that instead of arriving at Graden Hall in a carriage, and in the company of Lord Somme, you are here, in the woods, throwing branches at unsuspecting females who happen to be taking a walk.”
“Please allow me to apolo…” He began, but stopped as she held up her hand.
“I am only teasing, my lord. I understand it was an accident. After all, you did not see me walking in this direction. Just as I did not see you standing where you were standing.”
He was charmed by her sweetness and impressed by the easy manner she dismissed the whole incident. “How can I make amends?”
“Perhaps you can tell me how it is that you are here, alone, in the woods?” She smiled. “Is it possible that you have lost your way?”
There is was again! That special something in her eyes. He could not help returning her smile.
“My friend, Lord Somme, is escorting his mother and sister in his carriage,” he explained. “I separated from them an hour or two ago to ride the remainder of the journey on horseback.”
“Understandable.” She nodded, her eyes however mocked him. “But you decided to ride through the woods rather than on the lane?”
“You are rather curious, are you not?” He asked with amusement.
“You mean I am prying,” she said, her eyes mirroring his amusement. “I confess that is a failing I have not yet found a cure for. But you’ll have to agree that your sudden and strange appearance in the woods is quite… er… interesting.”
“I was enjoying a much-needed moment of solitude,” he said cryptically.
“Well, then,” she said, performing a perfect curtsey. “I shall leave you to your solitude, my lord.”
“Wait,” he said and, without thinking, reached out and held her elbow. “You have not told me who you are. Are you also a guest at Graden Hall?”
“I am,” she said, looking pointedly at where his hand touched her elbow, causing him to release her immediately. “And it is late and I have to return to the house before they send a search party to look for me.”
“Why don’t you allow me to escort you there?” He offered, surprising himself. “You really should not be walking alone in the woods.”
“Oh, I am quite certain that no harm will come to me,” she said and, as she walked away, she turned her head and smiled at him. “After all, you are no longer in possession of a dry branch, my lord.”
He chuckled as he watched her walk away from him. Her body was light and pleasing and he was aware of an undeniable attraction toward the young woman who had appeared from nowhere, had distracted him from his misery, albeit for a short while, and had disappeared again into the woods.